Ten Questions with the Academy: Mike Capps

Mike Capps

Mike Capps is a member of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences where he serves as one of its board directors.  He spoke at the D.I.C.E. Summit® in 2008.  He works for Epic Games.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you see facing the industry?

A: Game development has grown so fast as a business, but not nearly so fast as a profession, and you see the growing pains regularly.

Q: What's your favorite part of game development?

A: I love the people; so many fascinatingly cool people are in game development.  I really enjoy playing a game, and then meeting the people behind the game, and understanding how they think.  Shipping a game, developing a game engine, and running a company… they're all insanely complex maximization problems.  What do you with your time and your money, every day, to make the best game, the most profitable company, the best technology?  It's a blast.

Q: How do you measure success?
A: Success is completely internal.  You have to feel like you've earned it, and done something that impresses you about yourself.  I've been lucky to be recognized for a few awards here and there, as have games I've worked on, but when you come to expect it, it's hard to be proud of the success.  I've been just as proud of finishing a long run when fighting through an injury, or any other act of major willpower.  In the end, I'm rarely satisfied, and never particularly impressed with myself, and that's what drives me to improve every day.

I respond particularly well to earnest praise, though, as does everyone.  Overachievers can't please their internal success-o-meters, but if someone else says "good job" it bypasses all that and gives them a feeling of success.  Don't be sparing with earnest praise.

Q: What game are you most jealous of?
A: Shadow Complex.  Sure, it's an Epic family game, but I'm jealous of the Chair team's experience.  Sometimes, I miss being part of a small, focused group of friends who all get to contribute heavily to a game's design.  

Q: What’s the one problem of game development you wish you could instantly solve?
A: Finding talented folks, or more accurately, having talented folks find us.  Epic always has open positions, but we can't always find the right candidates; we could accomplish so much more with just a few more brilliant people.  They're out there, but they're not all thinking games.

Q: On a practical basis, what’s the one thing you’re going to tackle next?
A: I promised after finishing a half marathon last weekend (my first in 15 years) that I would devour any gravy, or gravy-like substances, that come in sight range.  I will utterly defeat that most holy of holidays, Thanksgiving.

Q: Are games important?

A:  Sometimes I worry that they're not – that we're just helping people waste their time, instead of being productive and adding to society.  But Don Daglow gave an inspiring talk recently that reminded me how much people need entertainment, and an escape, in their lives.  It serves a real purpose.  And who knows?  “Having a good time while we're here” might just be the whole point!

Q: Do you think it’s important for developers to continue playing games?
A: Absolutely.  The best games always come from developers who are passionate about the game's content.  You have to play games, especially the game you're making, to make a great game.

Q: And what are you playing right now, or looking forward to?
A: I've got a stack of games a mile high waiting for me at home.  I try to play all our competitors' games, and all our licensees' games, and as our licensing business grows that's kept me darned busy.  For this holiday weekend, I've cued up Assassin's Creed 2, Borderlands, Left 4 Dead 2, and I'll make some headway on CoD:MW2 special ops.

Q: Finally, when you look at the future is there one great big trend that effects everyone?

A: Game developers are getting older, and we're adding young gamers faster than we're adding young game developers.  Staying relevant and interesting is a long-term challenge for every development studio.  Oh, and global warming.